a volunteer garden

March 14, 2012

I went out to the garden yesterday to inspect things, and found some surprise treats!

The lettuce of course re-seeded itself. I let a lot of lettuce go to seed, and now I have little babies growing all over the place.

Above is a chard plant. The stem from the original plant is under my finger. I had mulched around the plants in the fall, and I think that the dried leaf cover protected the plants during the winter.

Last summer was super hot, and my fall crop of carrots and turnips didn’t really develop well, so I left them in the ground over winter. Because the winter was so mild, a lot of the little guys made it. A row of carrots, which still taste good, although some of them have some sort of frostbite. I am going to leave them in and watch how they continue to grow.

A healthy patch of turnips. These guys might need thinning soon!

Some cilantro, which looks pretty good, and tastes great!

And a patch of frizzled frisee. Hopefully these guys grow into happy plants. I can’t wait to see.

Meanwhile, I planted some dwarf grey sugar peas, dragon carrots, danvers carrots, Paris market carrots, flat leaf parsley, sylvetta arugula (a low growing slow to bolt variety), endive, and chard. I worked the soil in the fall, incorporating manure and straw, and so this morning all I needed to do was turn the soil a little with a pitchfork, and break up a few clumps with my hands. Much easier than last year!! It certainly pays off to take good care of soil.

A happy little garden plot, looking forward to some spring rain this week!

oh the vine borers

August 20, 2011

Last year I planted a huge patch of pumpkins and not much else. So when I went out to the field and found that the majority of the pumpkins and squash had been invaded by vine borers I was devastated…

This year, I diversified. I planted lots of different things, and have had pretty good luck with many of them. The pumpkins though…vine borers again! My plan of defense this year was by default. It was so wet for so long that I was unable to work the ground in the pumpkin patch until the beginning of July. By the time that the pumpkin and squash seeds were in the ground, it was after the middle of July.

I had understood that the vine borers would no longer be laying eggs by this time. But no…most of this year’s crop was invaded. I went out yesterday morning with my handy pocket knife and carefully slit the stems to kill the borers and try to save the plants. Some might live, but I wont hold my breath.

I planted a patch of pumpkins (Ronde de Nice from Seed Savers) in one of our raised beds, and they were fine. These I planted in June, and I don’t know if the Ronde de Nice  is resistant to VBs, or if that patch didn’t have any of the vermin.

(Note: the above photo is of the Ronde de Nice flower. There are quite a few cucumber beetles and one bee in the flower. I don’t know if the beetles are counter productive to the pollination process, but the bee is definitely welcome!)

This particular pumpkin can be harvested as summer and winter squash. I have been eating them tiny and they are delicious. The squash below is a few inches across and perfect when stewed with onions and tomatoes.

We missed a few (including the one below) and they are going on to be pumpkins! They remain green, but should harden and last for a while!

I have been talking to many people about vine borers, and have gotten a good amount of advice.

Remedies include wrapping the young stems with tinfoil, washing stems with insecticidal soap, and covering the entire plot with row cover. I am actually quite excited to try some (or all) of these measures next year, as well as continuing to try the staggered planting. I will report for sure!!

P.S. any further advice/experience with vine borers is greatly appreciated. Please leave comments. Thanks!

garden report

August 5, 2011

Things are looking a little beaten up in the garden. It has been hot hot hot. And no rain for over a month…

We (my mom) pulled a tomato horn worm off of a pepper plant. It worked its way around the first plant and was just setting in on the second when we spotted it…

There has been an infestation of little yellow beetles, that love to eat the heck out of pumpkin and eggplant leaves.

And some lovely cabbage worms have been keeping me busy. I look for fresh droppings, and usually find a cabbage green worm that needs to be plucked off and disposed of…

My mom and I picked a crop of lima beans. They are quite a bit of work to pick and shell, but it is pleasant work, sitting in the garden in the morning with a breeze.

The okra are looking good, creating a little tunnel for the tasty morsels to grow up in. I planted a burgundy variety and they are quite beautiful and tender. I haven’t gotten past eating them raw so far, but hopefully will get around to pickling some at some point..

The marigold fence along the north border of the garden seems to be doing well. I haven’t had too much trouble with larger scale vermin, and am hoping that the marigolds are helping with this. Also, I just love how they look and smell.

The pumpkin patch got in super late. We had so much rain that I wasn’t able to get anything in for about a month! By the time everything was ready it was mid July. But I stuck some pumpkin, corn and bean seeds in some hills of soil and horse manure and covered them with straw. Hopefully they will produce by the first frost. At least they were planted too late for the vine boarers to attack!

Beans are in a holding pattern. When it got too hot, they stopped producing, and I am hoping that they will start again as the temperature cools off (relatively speaking).

The purple podded pole beans are a lovely tangle of purple foliage, beans, stems and blossoms!

The sunflowers are doing their duty, greeting the sun every morning, and following it across the sky. I love to see how their heads have moved throughout the day!

Last but not least is my compost pile. The soil out here isn’t the greatest, and so it is really important to add organic material. I started this compost pile a few weeks ago, layering straw, fresh hay, weeds, garden clippings, leaves, and kitchen scraps. I also add a bit of soil here and there. The pile is on top of a bed of branches to allow for adequate drainage, and I have been watering it as I do the garden, to keep it moist and happy. It is situated under an oak tree, as directed by Jon Jeavons. I am guessing that the microbial live present in the roots helps with the composting process. I like to think of it as a moist compost layer cake with straw frosting…tasty!

Here is a bit of bolting lettuce. I keep it because it looks so pretty!


June 5, 2011

My dad and I have a tractor. Her name is Louise and she is yellow. These are the important things.

Louise is a 36 hp Ford 2110 (similar to a Ford 3000, but with shorter front tire spindles) produced in the early/mid eighties (’83-’86). My dad and I found her in Oskaloosa, where she dutifully spent her life wearing turf tires and pulling a mower for the local golf course. (This is also why she is the industrial yellow instead of the classic Ford blue.) When we found her, Louise had been sitting on the lot for about 2 years, and her tires had been changed to ag tires. She didn’t have any implements, and needed a little bit of tuning up.

Our friend Mike came along with us to meet Louise. Mike can listen to a tractor hum and know if it is a good one. He approved of Louise just about right away, and took her for a little spin around the lot. Mike knows just about everything about tractors. No Joke.

After we purchased Louse, Mike tied her up onto the back of a trailer pulled by Tonka Truck (his large rig), and took her home to Fairfield. Mike did a bit of work on Louise. He patched her rear left tire rim, which was a bit rusted through, and fixed the starter, which wasn’t working properly, and replaced the tachometer. Louise had about 7500 tractor hours when we purchased her, but she was in good shape. Working at the golf course has its benefits.

Louise runs on gasoline, and has a newly fixed up motor. She has power steering, and a pto, and a class one three point hitch that we can attach a mower, plow and disc to.

When we got Louise home, the implement hunt started. I have gotten really good about asking everyone I know if they know of anyone that might know of anyone that might know something about a disc…or plow…or mower…or front end loader…or snow plow…and on and on.

Tractors are handy, but without implements they just look pretty and are fun to drive.

We set out to find a disc and plow first. To get the field ready to plant pumpkins, squash, corn and beans. Mike had a friend who found a rusty old plow at an auction, and he picked that up for us.

My dad found a beautiful red disc, and took Louise to pick it up.

Louse, the plow, and the disc made it out to the farm, piece by piece.

Currently, Louise has plowed the pumpkin patch. We are waiting for the soil to dry to disc it up. It is awfully wet, and Louise doesn’t do so well with muddy soil.

Louise spends most of her time in the garage with Big Red.

Her skin is sensitive, and she has to stay away from all those UV rays.

Sometimes she takes a drive down the lane. Just for fun.

Louise has 8 speeds, and reverse. She can turn on an individually braked tire.

No such thing as a three point turn for Louise!

It is a little bit grim what happens to pumpkins. The seeds are planted, they spend all summer collecting energy from the sun, and nutrients from the soil and water, and then we eat them. Scrub, de-stem, seed, and bake in the oven in a tray of boiling water. Jay took the picture above in the oven with his camera that can capture lovely dark images!

I love my pumpkins. Jay came over today to see the harvest (which was rather small…) and we decided to make a pot of pumpkin soup. With a Long Island Cheese variety.

We cut the pumpkin in half, seeded it and saved the seeds. (I do figure that the purpose of the plant is to continue to create offspring, so my meticulously saving and planting the seeds does count for something after I cut open and eat the squash…)

We baked the pumpkin in a 400 degree oven until it was tender, and the top had browned.

(I is important to wait until the pumpkin is well done. The skin just peels off if you do!)

I mashed the pumpkin flesh with a fork, and added it to a mixture of sauteed onions and garlic, parsley, and a little bit of parmesan cheese rind ready on the stove.

After we mixed everything together the soup was pretty much finished. It was bubbling on the stove for five or ten minutes, and then we served it up. We garnished it with fresh parsley, grated parmesan, and toasted pumpkin seed oil (a real treat!).

We managed to find little spots on the table to eat. I was definitely knocking elbows with pumpkins throughout the meal, but it was fun anyways!

Pumpkin Soup (more like guidelines than a recipe!)


a smallish long island cheese pumpkin (or any pumpkin or winter squash) cut in half and seeded

a small onion

a few cloves of garlic

olive oil

a few sprigs (or more) of parsley

a bit of parmesan cheese rind

some more parsley, cheese, and pumpkin seed oil for garnish

salt and pepper


Bake pumpkin cut side down in an inch or so of water in a 400 degree oven.

Meanwhile, chop and sautee onions, and whole clove or two of garlic in olive oil over medium low heat. Add some salt, and then after a few minutes the chopped parsley and parmesan rind. Stir for about a minute or so, then add a tiny bit water and let simmer for a few minutes and then set aside.

The pumpkin should be about done here, and you can scrape it right from the shell and add directly to the soup. I used the water from baking pumpkin for the soup instead of broth or fresh water.

Stir everything well, and blend or put through a food mill if you like. Let the soup simmer for ten or fifteen minutes before serving.

Garnish with extra chopped parsley, freshly grated parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and toasted pumpkin seed oil (all optional).

I wait until it rains to pull the carrots in my garden. For some reason the soil is really hard, and it is nearly impossible to pull carrots out of the dry soil.

I was able to pull a bunch of carrots, purple and orange, and I mixed them with some diakon radish, rice vinegar, salt, sugar and minced pepper to make a quick pickle. I loosely adapted the recipe from The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich.

I chopped the vegetables into little strips and set them aside in a bowl.

Meanwhile, I chopped up several red chiles and mixed them with rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. I heated the mixture to melt the sugar, and let it cool before pouring over the veggies. Which I then stuck in a jar in the fridge. They will last up to a week, but are better eaten sooner! I am sure that will be no problem.

black currant hedge

July 10, 2010

There is a beautiful brick wall that my grampa built around the stairs to the basement. My front yard is north facing, tree filled, and pretty shady (although sunny right now in the middle of the day in the summer..). The space in front of the brick wall has been a convenient resting place for dead leaves, twigs, and spiders. A friend of mine gave me a bunch of black currant plants from the bushes in her yard, and I decided to try to create a currant hedge. I love currants! I can still remember the first time I had a big wooden basket of them, in the train station in Switzerland, with my best friend. They are a joy to eat, and the idea of walking out my kitchen door to a patch of currants is lovely!

So for now, there are four plants. Two tiny ones, and two a bit bigger (maybe one year and two year sprouts?). I planted them 36 inches apart, about a foot or so from the wall, and I will see what happens. According to my limited research and knowledge, currants like sun, but are pretty shade tolerant. This might be the perfect spot for them.  As usual, it takes me a great leap of faith to plant things like bushes and trees…I am always curious as to whether they will “take.”

Sometimes things don’t work. I feel compelled to report on a few projects that that I started, with high hopes, that didn’t result in much. Here are two that I wouldn’t go out and strongly recommend.

  1. Planting chestnuts (the actual nut) in the ground in the fall, under various layers of protection.
  2. Trying to get rid of weeds using clear plastic.

Last fall I got really into picking chestnuts. I gathered nuts for eating, and saved some of the particularly nice big ones to plant. I planted the chestnuts, covered them with cardboard, poked a hole for the sprout to come up, and covered the whole thing with chicken wire. Nothing came up. Oh, except for a lot of weeds….

I think an animal must have gotten in and eaten the nuts, or something. I don’t know.

At the same time, I transplanted two chestnut seedlings from a friend. One was a one year old tree, and the other about two years old. The chestnut seedlings are both doing well, and I have high hopes that in about 5 years I might have a chestnut crop! Especially with my little hive of pollinators happily stationed in their tree near by!

Jay and I experimented with a sheet of clear plastic to get rid of some of the grass in our pumpkin patch. We covered the majority of the space with cardboard and straw, but in one corner we used clear plastic. The idea was that it would create a greenhouse and get so hot that the grass (and its seeds) would cook, and we would end up with a nice clean slate to plant pumpkins…

It certainly did create a greenhouse… Maybe we didn’t leave it on long enough, but it seemed that the grass under the plastic just wouldn’t really die. Some of it did, but not very consistently. Some of the plastic blew off, and other parts made great water catchers/mosquito breeding grounds. And the whole mess smelled terrible!  So…we took the plastic off and used the cardboard and straw technique, which worked really well!

great wall of china

June 22, 2010

I feel a little like I built the great wall of China this afternoon. But only a little. Jay and I put up a fence around the pumpkin patch. If it doesn’t keep whatever is attacking the patch at bay I will electrify it. That is all I have to say on the subject. Oh, and we replanted the empty hills, removed the weird wire traps all over the place, and tidied up a little bit…

disaster strikes

June 8, 2010

The pumpkin patch isn’t doing so well. I generally don’t mind deer and turkeys, but last night I was about ready to take a shotgun to them. Seriously! I had a beautiful idyllic little pumpkin patch, and then all of a sudden it was under attack. I have seen both turkeys and deer wandering through the patch, and so I am not entirely sure what is going on. Whatever it is likes the llama poop, and has dug multiple holes in each of the hills. It doesn’t care for (or about!) the pumpkins, just something in the llama poop, or something in the hills? I am not sure. Maybe some fungi or insects in the llama poop?

Bottom line is that I need a fence. My mom and I went out and created some makeshift hill guards, but we need a fence. Tall, strong, and preferably carrying an electric current.

We set to covering the hills with salvageable plants, and replanted where there were too many plants gone. I am going to go to the farm supply store today to research fences…

p.s. if you have any ideas or suggestions about what this might be, or how to protect from it, or what kind of fence to get please let me know in the comments section!